Miriam and Chris moved recently and they had a house-warming this weekend. A few weeks ago, I made Tandoori meatballs and I decided to make some “party-sized meatballs” for their gathering. This was made slightly more complicated by their request that these be carbohydrate-free.
When you are making meatballs with bread crumbs, the starch does more than simply act as a binding agent. The crumbs absorb the excess moisture in the mixture and makes it easier to roll the meat into firm balls. When you use just egg as a binder, it only makes the mix soggier.
If you are making a meatloaf in a pan, a soggy mixture does not matter. The sides of the pan hold the meat in the proper shape until the binding properties of the egg take over. If I simply plopped scoops of my mixture on a flat pan they would spread out into chicken pancakes, not meat balls. What was I to do? Fortunately, I had just what I needed, a mini-muffin pan. While these did not come out as meatballs—they were more of a thick disk—they were close enough.
Only one problem remained. While the egg binder made the meatballs strong enough to withstand the trip from bowl to mouth on a toothpick, they would not take even gentle tossing with the sauce. Mixing the meat with the sauce would turn it into more of a meat sauce, rather that meatballs and sauce. The solution was to lay the meatballs in the serving dish and ladle the sauce over them. A gentle shake of the of the dish coated the meat underneath the top layer without breaking up the meatballs.
Note: Mixing lemon with dairy products runs the risk of curdling. Whenever you are making a dish with both dairy and a highly acidic ingredient, always use full fat products. The fat helps prevent the milk proteins from going all “fluffy” and spoiling your dish.
Karl’s Party Tandoori Chicken Meatballs
½ lb. chicken thighs, coarsely ground
½ lb chicken breast, coarsely ground
½ cup Greek yogurt (full fat)
½ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup onion, grated
8 cloves garlic, crushed finely
1 egg, lightly scrambled
2+ Tbs. Tandoori Masala
2 tsp. ginger, grated
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. Kosher salt
Karl’s Tandoori Sauce
2 Tbs. ghee (clarified butter)
1 small onion, finely diced
½ tsp. Kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, crushed finely
2 Tbs. Tandoori Chicken Masala
1 tsp. ginger, grated
½ tsp. black pepper
1 cup yogurt
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs. cilantro, chopped (optional)
1. Combine all of the meatball ingredients in a medium bowl.
2. Mix well and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour to meld.
Tip: The yogurt and lemon juice will tenderize the chicken, the will finish off the process. But if you leave it too long, they would break down the meat’s proteins too much and you would end up with chicken mush.
3. Pam two mini-muffin pans.
4. Using a ½ tablespoon measure, scoop the meat mixture into the cups.
Tip: Many people make their meatballs large—2 tablespoons—I find these too hard to eat in one bite. For a party-sized meatball—to snack on a toothpick—I think ½ tablespoon is just the right size for a nosh.
5. Broil the meatballs—2 inches from the element on high—for eight minutes.
6. Turn the meatballs over and broil for five minutes more, until browned and crispy on both sides.
7. Melt the ghee in a medium sauce pan and sauté the onions with the salt until soft, about five minutes.
Tip: You may start the sauce while the meat is broiling, but this may be a bit of a juggle. It is safer to wait until the meat balls are done before starting the sauce. You want your meat well browned, but not well burnt.
8. Add the garlic and continue sautéing for one minute more, until fragrant.
9. Stir in the spice blend, ginger, and pepper and heat for 30 seconds to warm the spices.
Note: Traditional tandoori spice blend is not very red—some blends add a bit paprika for the color. The bright red spice—that many Westerners are familiar with—is actually British, with added dye for color. It has also become very hard to get hold of—I think Sharwood’s may have discontinued making it. For this dish, I used traditional spice in the meat and the last of my Sharwood’s for the sauce.
10. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the yogurt and lemon juice. Heat until warmed, but do not boil the sauce.
Tip: I have tried doing this sauce with low and non-fat yogurts, this does not work, you need the high fat content to keep the lemon juice from curdling the yogurt. The fat buffers the acids and prevents a “fluffy” broken sauce.
11. Lay the meatballs in a serving dish and spoon the sauce over them. Gently shake the dish to coat.
Tip: If you have made the meatballs a bit ahead, you may need to microwave them for a few minutes to heat them through.
12. Garnish with some cilantro (optional) and serve with toothpicks on the side.